Home Inspector Tool Box – What’s Inside?
Home Inspector Tool Box – Essential Tools First. Let’s start off discussing the tools needed for every inspection regardless of state, standard of practice, or local conditions that alter the way one inspector may inspect compared to another. This list consists of approximately 25 items that are estimated to cost $1,000-$1,500 depending on quality that can fill your home inspector tool box. Regarding this list here are a couple pointers I have based on past experiences.
Tip #1: Try to purchase professional grade tools, i.e. tools not found at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. While some tools like a screw driver or Leatherman multi-tool may work for several years purchased at these chain retail stores, much of the equipment I have purchased simple breaks or falls apart after just a few months of heavy use. Some tools however, are essential to be professional grade such as what is probably the most important tool of all for a home inspector tool box: a flash light. Some exceptions I have found are the following: Dewalt products have always been very high quality for me (and I’m not a Dewalt guy), just about any torpedo level I’ve purchased works just fine, the $40 moisture meter by General (purchased at Home Depot or Lowe’s) I have found to perform identically to my $650 Tramex; for ladders I have found the Werner multi-purpose ladder (purchased at Home Depot or Lowe’s) to be extremely durable. However, still I wish I had purchased a Little Giant as my first ladder as it is much lighter and easier to haul around. An even lighter ladder that seems to be well built in my experience is the Gorilla multi-position ladder. Another piece of advice is this: beware that Amazon is reported to have a plethora of counterfeit products. This can be true of any retail store, so I recommend trying to purchase as directly from the manufacturer as possible. This was the whole point in controlling the number of authorized dealers in the old days, but now controlling counterfeit products can be tricky.
Tip #2: Don’t purchase a tool simply because it is the most expensive. This is the biggest financial mistake I have made yet in my carrier. There have been a handful of times I purchased a tool mainly due to trust. Why trust? It was on display at a home inspection conference and I assumed best quality because of the home inspector association endorsement. This has led me the wrong way more than once. So the point; don’t assume it’s the best because it’s the most expensive, or because our professional standards organizations are endorsing it. Speak to other professionals who use the tools every day (and not those trying to sell you the tool); there will often be a consensus on the tools that truly perform. One tool I have found is not worth the expense in my opinion is telescoping ladders. Due to the lack of durability and need for replacement after 1 to 2 years, I have calculated them to cost between 10-20x the amount of a Little Giant style ladder over the long run.
Tip #3: Be willing to purchase tools that other inspectors consider beyond the scope. A case in point is probe thermometers which I require all my inspectors to use. When performing a Delta T test on an HVAC system, an infrared temperature gun can cause an inspector to call operational, a system that is definitively outside of the range of being operable. The point: Purchase the tools that give as accurate findings as possible. Don’t lessen your inspection quality due to using an inferior tool. If an inspector snaps at you saying “that’s outside of the scope, you can’t use that!”, simply ask him, “do you use a screwdriver or an outlet tester? Because these also are outside the scope of our inspection”. A great inspector will end up making a lot of money because of his reputation as a great inspector. To have that reputation, it serves us to be wiling to test things to a reasonable degree for the sake of a spot-on accurate inspection report. Along this vain I have included a moisture meter as a part of “essential” equipment. The reason for this is since these have become widely available at a very low cost, just saying “there is a water stain there; can’t tell you if there is an active problem or not…” just won’t cut it if you are going to build a reputation as a competent inspector; at least in most areas.
Tip #4: Know what tools are required by your Standard of Practice. Yes, some tools are actually required to maintain the minimum standard established by the SoP. Is a digital camera required? If you’re following the ASHI SoP, then the answer is absolutely NOT. A home inspection report with photos is simply not a requirement. However, you have better own binoculars if you are an ASHI inspector. The standard says that if you are not able to walk the roof, you will inspect with binoculars if such a method is possible. Other required tools are a flashlight, a latter that is more than 11′ tall, and some medium to write a report on. The list below is what I estimate as “essential”, but these are not all “required”. One other tool that might be considered required by your SoP is a thermometer device. More SoPs are requiring that we report on appliances which can be hard to due without determining operating temperature; this also includes testing of water heaters and HVAC systems.
So here is your essential list:
- High quality flashlight (recommend Streamlight used by law enforcement)
- 17 foot Little Giant style ladder
- Water proof drop resistant digital camera with flash
- Outlet tester without GFCI button
- Electrical sniffer
- Tool pouch
- Dust mask/respirator
- Gloves (light weight and rubber)
- Shoe covers
- Leatherman multi-tool
- Multi-Screw Driver
- Voltage tester
- Hex head screwdriver bits
- tape measure 12′
- Moisture meter (pinless)
- Duct tape
- Thermometer device (infrared or probe)
- Torpedo level
- extension cord
- Rubber boots
- Knee pads/Elbow pads
Home Inspector Tool Box – Recommended Tools Next
Here is a list of tools I highly recommend that an inspector carry. I added the cost of purchase to be somewhere in the range of $650-$950.
- Long screwdriver or other probing device
- Battery operated screwdriver or small screw gun
- Small battery operated vacuum or a hand broom and dust pan
- Moving blanket/drop clothe
- Freeze proof water pressure gauge
- 13′ light weight multi-position ladder or telescoping ladder
- Utility knife
- Shammy towels
- Bungy cords or short straps for ladder tie downs
- Electrical multimeter
- Extra batteries for all tools and thermostats
- 2′ and 4′ levels
- Channel locks and other basic wrenches
- Bolt cutters
- Gas leak detector for areas with heavy gas use
The Tool Box Used by My Team
I’d like to begin this point with the mindset and guiding principles that have guided me in the choice of what tools I choose to purchase, use, and in some cases, educate myself to be able to use.
It’s a good rule of thumb to eventually have two of every tool for obvious reasons. Especially when an inspector becomes a high producer, a breakdown in an essential tool can really slow things down costing headaches and even loss in revenue. In fact, the main guiding principle that I would like to communicate is this: Using the right tools that are the right quality translates to more revenue. Even if you can’t see the connection initially, an investment in competence that produces confidence in the value of your service will transform an inspector’s business from being the “Cheap Charlie” desperate to book an inspection to the guy with very high fees that is regularly turning inspections away. To get a glimpse of this in real life, I invite you to look over the About page for my inspection business. Notice what I mention as our “value proposition”. Notice our company “culture” and how good tools as well as education in how to use them falls into both categories. Just think about what that means; instead of purchasing gimmickee guarantees and other semi-valueless “value add services”, good tools and education can be your “value”. That’s at least the approach my company takes.
With this in mind, here are some of the tools used by myself and the inspectors who work with me.
- All tools listed above (duh).
- Streamlight Ultra Stinger LED 1100 or 800 lumens models.
- We use Veto tool pouches that have a lifetime guarantee. I’ve been using mine for about 8 years and it is still going strong.
- For a multi screw gun, I love using the Worx model with the built in round of bits. The battery lasts for 2 or 3 weeks and it’s lasted me so far over 5 years.
- For an electrical multimeter, I recommend something similar to the Flir VT8 series due to the fork design of the clamp. This allows testing of wires in tight spaces within panels.
- The moisture meter I have been enjoying for more apparent accuracy is the Extech M0257 which calibrates to the relative humidity before testing a surface. That being said, we always carry a second meter of a different type to try and rule out false readings in peculiar scenarios.
- I require my inspectors use probe thermometers for HVAC Delta T testing. That being said, we also use high resolution Flir thermal imaging cameras. We will use temperature IR guns only for very basic testing of water temperature, appliances, etc.
- For a probing device, my guys carry long screw driver, but we also carry a soil probe that we use for checking the depth of foundations or the presence of footings when such is suspect.
- We also use a nail finder, carpenter rule, and sharpie pen for Florida Wind Mitigation inspections.
I think that covers if for the tools needed for a home inspector to do anything from a basic to a very high quality and thorough inspection. There will certainly be other tools that are essential that are not mentioned here based on the area and local conditions that affect buildings and construction quality. The list of tools I am NOT covering in this article are what I would call optional tools like a laser level to check foundation movement for example. In a future article I will address the question of REVENUE VS COST. What tools will significantly increase an inspectors revenue and be worth the time and investment. Maybe we’ll even discuss tools that are really just toys; fun to play with but that do not significantly enhance the value of the inspection and as a consequence, increase revenue. Let’s end this article with a couple website links (aside from amazon) where I have found successful tool purchases. Even with these websites, BUYER BEWARE! Use the principles stated above to guide you to wise revenue producing choices.
Monroe Infrared is great for many tools though I’d stay away from their sewer cameras. Grainger is a good source for many professional tools. Streamlight is the only source I trust to get dealers to avoid counterfeit flashlights (these products are highly counterfeit). Tool Experts have a lot of specialized knick-knack tools for home inspectors but be careful, a lot of this stuff is very cheap and poor quality. Local tool supply warehouses and retail stores that are specialty or locally owned can be good to avoid counterfeit stuff.
Feel free to email me with any questions. I wish you well on your inspection journey!